Hazard-resistant Housing

A substantial portion of the housing stock in the Eastern Caribbean is built through the "informal sector" and does not meet official standards. Much of this housing is vulnerable to the impacts of natural hazards. Under the Caribbean Disaster Mitigation Project, selected non-governmental National Development Foundations were assisted in establishing Hurricane Resistant Home Improvement Programs. These programs include outreach to homeowners, training of construction artisans, minimum standards for retrofitting, and a revolving loan fund to finance small construction/improvements. In Antigua and Barbuda, the National Development Foundation has been operating the program since early 1999.

Under the Post-Georges Disaster Mitigation Project, safer housing activities were reviewed in Antigua/Barbuda, St. Kitts/Nevis and, for comparison, St. Lucia. Under this assessment, the status of the following activities were reviewed in these three countries:

A summary of the findings of this assessment is included below. The full findings and recommendations are available in the final report, A Review of the Safer Housing Activities in Antigua/Barbuda, St. Kitts/Nevis and St. Lucia. This report was produced by Bryan Walcott, Executive Director of the National Development Foundation of St. Lucia.

St. Kitts/Nevis

The housing situation in St. Kitts and Nevis is primarily affected by availability and accessibility to land. Most of the available land in St. Kitts in particular was, and is, owned by large estates. The Government has acquired most of those estates. In Nevis, the situation is different as most of the land is owned by private individuals.

The ownership of land in St. Kitts by the Government makes private sector housing developments almost impossible and the sale of land to potential homeowners can be heavily influenced by political considerations. With a current population of approximately 46,000, there does not appear to be an urgent need for land, and unplanned developments are not readily apparent. However, developments in the La Guerite area, near the reservoir, suggests the nature of things to come.

Another factor that affects low-income housing development in St. Kitts is the aversion for wooden houses. The construction material of choice is concrete, notwithstanding the fact that for low-income homeowners concrete structures may not be affordable. This aversion for wooden structures particularly the T111 plywood, may be the cause of the third factor to be considered, the lack of community or family coming together to erect a house for a friend or family member. This type of activity still occurs in Nevis but is practically non-existent in St. Kitts.

There are no formal training programmes for the construction of hazard resistant houses. The lessons taught by the experience of hurricanes in recent years have created the awareness of the need for such housing. These lessons, however, may soon be forgotten.

Finally, the accessibility to financing as an impediment to the low-income homeowner. Where funds are available the criteria for eligibility for access to those funds often present an insurmountable hurdle for most low-income earners.


The housing situation in Antigua is affected not so much by the availability but by access to land. Most of the available land is owned by the Government. Though the low-income earner is unable to purchase land, there are possibilities of renting "house spots." The Government also makes land available for sale. There is the perception, however, that without political connections, as in the "Land for Youth Project," the effort to acquire such land is an exercise in futility, resulting in a lack of aggression in the effort to own land, especially among low-income earners. This predicament will, and is, leading to the increase in squatting. There is a great demand for safe and affordable shelter as evidenced by the new building systems being introduced. Wooden houses, though, remain popular.

The experiences of Hurricanes Marilyn, Georges, Luis, Hugo, José, Debbie and Lenny are still fresh in the minds of many resulting in a heightened awareness of the need for disaster resistant construction techniques, adherence to an appropriate Building Code and Standard and a recognition of the need for proper training.

The only recognisable form of training is that provided by Antigua Masonry Products Ltd, which focuses on the methods of mixing concrete to achieve the required PSI. There are suggestions of on-the-job training but this cannot be relied upon. Two training manuals have been produced in Antigua/Barbuda:

There are a number of financial institutions which finance the acquisition of houses for the middle and upper income earners. The traditional financial institutions find it difficult to cater to the needs of the low-income earners and to those persons whose incomes are not regular or easily verifiable.

Even the National Development Foundation, whose mandate is to provide such services, finds it difficult to do so. Though the funds are available, it is the access to those funds that creates the difficulty.

St. Lucia

In July 1994, the Directors of the National Research and Development Foundation approved the establishment of a revolving loan facility for financing of Retrofitting and Safer Housing Projects for St Lucian homeowners in the low-income sector.

The primary goal of this facility was to better enable homeowners, small entrepreneurs, contractors, artisans and non-professional builders to adopt appropriate and cost effective disaster vulnerability reduction measures in the informal housing sector.

The funds were intended to be used for: retrofitting/safeguarding existing structures against storms and hurricanes; renovating existing structures; extending existing structures to better accommodate basic family needs; purchasing existing small structures; and building new small structures. In each approved case, the building would be retrofitted. Loans would be granted to a maximum of EC$15,000.00 per project for not more than four years.

The following minimum eligibility criteria applied:

The Directors agreed to enter into collaborative arrangements with local, regional and international institutions and agencies to mobilise technical, financial and other resources for the support of the Programme. The Foundation accepted the invitation from the Organisation of American States to participate in the Retrofitting and Safer Housing Programme in conjunction and collaboration with the Co-operative Housing Foundation (CHF) and Caritas Antilles Ltd.

After much discussion and debate, the Foundation, in April 1995, decided to withdraw from the CHF funded component of the project since it did not consider the CHF terms and conditions amenable to the interests of its clientele or in keeping with its credibility and, in particular, the self-sustaining priorities of the Foundation. The Foundation continued its own Programme which included a retrofitting component, in keeping with the specific vulnerability reduction standards of the CDMP, and close collaboration in information sharing, marketing, staff training with Caritas and the OAS.

Marketing. The marketing of the Programme commenced with a household survey of the two pilot communities of Gros Islet and Dennery. This was followed up with an extensive market study which illustrated the extent and nature of demand and finance required for both hurricane retrofit and household safety and improvement purposes. 

Community meetings, radio and television talk programmes, press releases, church notices as well as contact with Community Leaders assisted this process. The Foundation actively marketed the programme to other financial institutions and insurance companies.

Training. The other major preparatory activity was the training of a pool of tradesmen and artisans to support the project. The Foundation obtained the assistance of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College in providing two tutors to carry out practical training in retrofitting techniques. Specific topics covered were: installation of roof ties, hurricane clamps and framing anchors; construction techniques for floors, walls and roofs; and safety procedures. The Foundation’s Project Officers, as well as the Caritas Project Officer, were trained in the process.

The workshop methodology included:

Insurance. The Foundation was able, through a local insurance broker, to obtain Group Insurance at very reasonable rates for those persons benefiting from the Housing Programme of the Foundation, on condition that all properties be retrofitted. The Project Officers of the Foundation were trained by the insurer in property evaluations. These evaluations, upon which the premium is based, are accepted by the insurer.

In cases where the insured is unable to meet the first year’s insurance premium, this is paid for by the Foundation and added to the amount borrowed. The insurance company informs the Foundation when the renewal premium becomes due and the Foundation then advises the client to pay and where this is not possible pays the premium and charges the client’s loan account.

CDMP Safe Construction Techniques, Guidelines and Minimum Standards

  1. Basic Minimum Standards for Retrofitting. May 1997. (HTML 700k)
  2. Make the Right Connections. A Manual on Safe Construction Techniques. November 1995. Available in HTML (30 individual pages, each approx 35k) and Microsoft PowerPoint97 format (large: 2.6mb).
  3. Hurricane Resistant Home Improvement Program: Toolkit. Revised December 1999. (HTML 75k)
  4. Safer Building Toolkit for Credit Unions. December 1998. (HTML 160k).
  5. Proceedings of the 1999 Workshop on the CDMP Hurricane-resistant Home Improvement Program. December 1999. (HTML 115k)
  6. Cost/Benefits of Disaster Mitigation in the Construction Industry. A Case Study. January 1995. (HTML 42k).

USAID/OAS Post-Georges Disaster Mitigation: http://www.oas.org/pgdm

Page last updated on 17 Sep 2001